Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani doctor's rape fuels guerilla attacks


Visitors are not welcome at the safe house in Karachi where Dr Shazia Khalid is living; not even with an invitation. A police team is posted at the gate and army rangers prowl the grounds inside.

"You need the permission from the bosses at the top," says a moustached officer firmly. "The very top."

Hours later Shazia picks up the phone inside.

Her strained voice crumbles into sobs.

"We are very scared," she says, her husband at her side. "In Pakistan there is no law, no protection, nothing. Who can we trust? Nobody."

She has good reason to worry. Until six weeks ago the 31-year-old was a company doctor at the Sui gas plant, at the farthest reaches of remote Baluchistan Province. On Jan. 3 she was raped in her bed.

Normally in Pakistan, where crimes against women are rife, such an act would barely raise an eyebrow. In her case, it nearly started a war.

Members of the local Bugti clan saw a rape in their heartland as being a breach of their code of honor -- especially when the alleged rapist was a captain in the despised national army. They attacked the gas field with rockets, mortars and thousands of AK-47 rounds.

President Pervez Musharraf sent an uncompromising response: Tanks, helicopters and an extra 4,500 soldiers to guard the installation. If the tribesmen failed to stop shooting, he warned on television, "they will not know what hit them."

But the guerrilla attacks have escalated, propelling a long-ignored province into the headlines and threatening civil war. Every day sees a new attack on military and government targets across the province.

The Bugti leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, says the question of Shazia's rape comes first.

"As long as the perpetrators of this heinous crime are not dealt with, there can be no talks," he said.

That is small consolation to the confused and frightened couple. Speaking publicly for the first time since the rape, Shazia told the London-based Guardian newspaper that officials from Pakistan Petroleum (PPL), which runs the plant, at first drugged her to cover up the case.

"Before the police came to take a statement, the [company's] chief medical officer said: `Don't give them any information.' Then they injected me with a tranquillizer that made me drowsy," she said.

At the time, PPL officials said Shazia was unable to file a statement because she was unconscious. Despite her injuries, Shazia was offered no medical treatment by PPL and she had no contact with her family for two days. Then the company flew her to Karachi and checked her into a private psychiatric hospital.

Three PPL doctors have since been arrested on charges of obstructing justice. But despite weeks of police investigation, Shazia's rapist remains at large.

She said she did not know his identity.

"He tied my hands with a telephone wire and blindfolded me with a dupatta [scarf]. But I could feel that he had a moustache and curly hair. And I know his voice," she said.

Meanwhile Baluch police have re-interviewed Shazia -- this time insinuating she was engaged in prostitution.

"They asked me where I got the 25,000 rupees that was stolen and when I wore my jewelry. And they said that a cleaner had found used condoms in my room," she said.

Since then the police have announced that DNA tests on the main suspect did not match that found at the scene, heightening fears of a cover-up.

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